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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bidding a Fond Farewell To Fading Kiosk Culture

I was on my way to pay a visit to one of my favorite kiosks -- a bootleg music mini-Mecca that occasionally manages to stock a record before it has been released in the West -- when I noticed that something unusual and untoward was taking place. On the ground where the kiosk should have been was a grubby mound of charred lumber and a few shattered cassette cases. And right there, dangling about five meters in the air on the end of a gigantic crane, one of the first victims of Governor Alexander Yakovlev's attempt to purge the city sidewalks of independent commercial enterprise, was the kiosk. I did everything I could to save it. But the gruff-looking individuals who were loading it onto a trailer didn't seem to appreciate my angst: "I don't know what is going to happen to it," said one, in colorful language, "And to be perfectly frank, I don't give a flying ..." Kiosk, I believe, is the word he was searching for.

Kiosks have been part of St. Petersburg's economic life since well before the revolution, when many of the stores in the city's two markets were just free standing kiosk-like brick turrets. One of the biggest kiosk-moguls of the time was Alexei Suvorin, the publisher of Anton Chekhov, who owned a network of train station outlets where he sold slim volumes of Chekhov's short stories. One of Russia's greatest literary figures, it appears, owed some of his success to the humble kiosk.

It is now estimated that 50 percent of St. Petersburg's consumer trade takes place in these bastard contraptions, 26,000 of which now litter St. Petersburg's sidewalks. This number includes some wonderful aberrations: The famous marble kiosks of Sadovaya are a particular favorite of mine. Then, there is the shishkebab kiosk in Findlandsky station, which rivals anything you might find on the streets of Istanbul.

Also, it is rumored, there are a number of select hard-drug kiosks on Vassilevsky Island. Just state your preference, pay the required amount, and an old babushka will slide back the grate and pass you out a couple of ounces of hash or cocaine with the sausages and bananas.

What exactly the authorities intend to do with the corrugated mountains of confiscated kiosks has not been disclosed. Some form of recycling would certainly be a clever and innovative solution. A set of wheels and a small engine would turn a kiosk into a nifty little motorized vehicle.

Also, a kiosk museum would be a great way to counter the upsurge of nostalgia that is bound to accompany their eventual extinction. Expats could reminisce about what Russia looked like when they first arrived. Locals could celebrate the passing of an era. Certainly, something needs to be done to honor this ramshackle phenomenon that has helped propel Russia from the darkness of communism and into the modern world.